Being grateful is one of the keys to happiness you will find in every book on how to be happy. It’s also one of the easiest things to practice, which is why it came as no surprise to me that the Three Good Things Gratitude Practice (name three things you are grateful for) appeared early on in Jonah Paquette’s book, Real Happiness: Proven Paths for Contentment, Peace, and Well-Being. Aside from gratitude, chapters in Real Happiness include “The Pursuit of Happiness,” “Roadblocks to Well-Being,” “The Power to Change,” and a succession of chapters that being with “The Power…” (to Change/of Gratitude/of the Present Moment/of Forgiveness), and the book rounds out with a final chapter called “Lasting Happiness.”
You can already see the point of the book, right?
Real Happiness aims to help all readers become eternally happy and achieve greater purpose and joy in life. It’s rather formulaic: beginning with gratitude, moving through acts of kindness, followed closely by the practice of living in the present moment, and finally observing compassion and forgiveness for everyone (including yourself). Like many books on happiness, there is no new strategy; only new case studies, popular stories about Buddha and leaders like Nelson Mandela, and a new narrative to carry you through things you’ve already read elsewhere.
That being said, like there are many motivational speakers out there trying to give you the same keys to success with a different delivery, so are there authors like Paquette trying to remind you how to be happy with exercises and parables carefully written out in polished chapters. If you find you are still in the dark about happiness practices and principles, then by all means add Real Happiness to your home library. Paquette’s version could be the one that inspires you! On the other hand, if you have been through your fair share of happiness books and know the go-to philosophy, you might find your thoughts wandering and end up with the same realization I did: Either this stuff doesn’t really work or there is just nothing left to be said at this point; there are only things to be done.
“Happiness is a skill,” writes Paquette, “No different than any other. And like any skill, it requires an ongoing commitment to developing it for it to grow.”
And he is precisely right! It is a skill, and very few have mastered it, which is probably why we dash off to buy hundreds of thousands of books on the topic and then end up selling them to our local half-priced bookstore only to replace them with the latest bestseller about happiness. Just searching the phrase “Be happy” in Amazon’s book toolbar will return almost 100,000 results. Like all these other books, Paquette deciphers happiness (Is it genetic? Environmental? Self-serving?) and preaches happiness practices (acts of kindness, gratitude, forgiveness).
But many of these things we already know from previous publications and studies. We know the stories of lottery winners who become so depressed they commit suicide. We know that environment is not a 100% indicator of our level of happiness. We know that television, smartphones, and the internet have actually led people to greater unhappiness. We know there are people who are jailed and tortured for decades who emerge seemingly unscathed and happy as a clam.
We know, as Paquette writes, “People who are grateful report lower levels of depression, improved physical health, describe more meaningful interpersonal relationships, and are more compassionate and forgiving towards others.” or “Practicing kindness has been linked to benefits including increased happiness levels, a greater sense of meaning and purpose, and decreased rates of stress and mental illness.” We get the gist; so why aren’t we doing these happiness activities? And for those of us who do practice them, is it really working?
“With hard work and effort, I truly believe that the sky is the limit,” Paquette writes as he closes out his book. Will it work for you? I don’t know. What I do know is this: If you want to pick up Real Happiness, go ahead and do it. There are tried and true practices within it. I just know that when you are done, you need to put the book away and start practicing these skills every day, or you’ll find yourself back at the bookstore picking up a new author’s book that tells you the exact same information. Helpful? Always. But will it make you happy? No. Not unless you start doing something about it.
Real Happiness: Proven Paths for Contentment, Peace, and Well-Being
PESI Publishing and Media, February 2015
Paperback, 182 pages